The revolt among key Democrats in the Senate’s foreign policy establishment expanded to another front on Sunday as members of the president’s party grow ever more anxious about Barack Obama’s confused and rudderless approach to crises overseas.
On Sunday, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) told Meet the Press host Andrea Mitchell she believed Obama had been “too cautious” in his approach to combating the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. She noted that, contrary to administration officials, the success that ISIS had in capturing territory in Iraq took American planners by surprise. Finally, Feinstein directly contradicted the president when she said that ISIS was certainly not al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team.”
“I think it’s a major varsity team, if you want to use those kinds of monikers. But I see nothing that compares with its viciousness,” the Senate Democrat said.
Feinstein’s mutiny was joined this weekend by another key Senate Democrat, Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ). New Jersey’s senior senator was not objecting to Obama’s lethargic approach to the ISIS threat, but his lethargic approach to the Russian threat. With Russo-Ukrainian war entering its seventh month, Russia has abandoned the pretense that an organic rebellion is conducting an insurgent war against Kiev’s authority. Last week, Moscow inserted Russian regular troops into Ukrainian territory with orders to engage forces loyal to the government.
On Sunday, Menendez told CNN’s Candy Crowley that it was past time for the United States to begin providing Ukrainian forces lethal aid in support of their resistance toward Russian aggression.
“We should be providing the Ukrainians with the type of defensive weapons that will impose a cost upon Putin for further aggression,” the senator said. “We have to give the Ukrainians the fighting chance to defend themselves.”
Menendez went a step further and, like his colleague from California, used the word “invasion” to describe the course Russia is pursuing in Ukraine. That matters.
On August 6, President Barack Obama suggested that the administration would take a firmer approach to the crisis in Ukraine if “you start seeing an invasion by Russia.” The word disappeared from administration officials’ vocabulary after United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power warned on August 8 that the U.S. would consider an incursion by a Russian aid convoy into East Ukraine as an “invasion.”
When the White House refused to make good on yet another violated red line, the administration started referring to the Russo-Ukrainian conflict as anything but an “invasion.”
There is clearly some concern among Senate Democrats that Obama’s approach to foreign crises will not adequately address those threats. Both Feinstein and Menendez are relatively popular representatives of deep blue states, and neither politician will face their state’s voters this year. Their concerns are not political, but representative of genuine apprehension that the security of the United States and its allies are being jeopardized by the leader of their party’s paralysis.